With ICE Raids Looming, Immigrants Worry: Every Time Someone Knocks, You Get Scared

 nytimes.com  07/13/2019 14:53:41   Caitlin Dickerson, Jose A. Del Real and Julie Bosman
ImageNews coverage of the upcoming immigration raids playing Friday on a television in a sanctuary space where a Honduran family is seeking shelter at a synagogue in Montclair, N.J.
News coverage of the upcoming immigration raids playing Friday on a television in a sanctuary space where a Honduran family is seeking shelter at a synagogue in Montclair, N.J.CreditCreditMark Abramson for The New York Times

All week, Veronica had distracted herself from a constant barrage of news about a series of coordinated immigration raids that the Trump administration planned to begin this weekend in cities across the country.

She worked late every night, preparing for a weeklong family vacation to Florida to visit Disney World and go fishing. She booked a three-bedroom apartment for herself and 13 family members. She packed her 4-year-old daughters Mickey Mouse backpack and Frozen-themed suitcase with clothes, stuffed animals and a blanket to sleep with.

But then, the woman who cleans Veronicas home, who is undocumented, showed her cellphone videos of immigration arrests happening in Miami. The woman warned that Freddie, Veronicas husband and partner of 15 years, who is undocumented and has a standing deportation order, could be swept up. Other family members and friends started to call, saying the same.

Hours before the family was scheduled pile into cars for the long drive to Florida from their home in Prince Georges County, Maryland, Veronica called her immigration lawyer for advice. The lawyer told her to cancel.

Its a disaster because my daughter was happy that we were taking this trip. Shes only 4 years old but she knows a lot things, Veronica said. Now we dont know how we are going to explain to her that were not going to be able to go on vacation anymore.

She requested that she be identified only by her first name for fear of increasing the likelihood that they could be targeted in the raids.

President Trumps promises on Friday that the administration would execute a series of immigration arrests nationwide added to fears that have been growing among immigrant communities for more than a month, as the raids have been debated, scheduled and then rescheduled.

The operation will target some 2,000 undocumented immigrants who crossed the border recently, in groups of family units. That is a departure from what is typical for Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, who tend to focus on deporting adults who entered the country alone. But word of the operation seems to have struck fear across undocumented communities, including among people who have been living here for years.

The raids were planned out of Mr. Trumps frustration over the steady stream of migrant parents and children who began crossing the border in record numbers last October, with numbers increasing almost every month since. Though border crossings dropped slightly in June, the administration says that the situation is still a humanitarian crisis.

Caving to pressure from Democratic lawmakers and immigrant advocates who had labeled the raid operation as inhumane and unnecessary, Mr. Trump delayed the raids in June, saying that he would give Democratic lawmakers time to adjust existing immigration laws to tighten up the asylum process. In the absence of legislative change, plans for the raids re-emerged this week, spiking fear once again.

Now, a number of undocumented immigrants  particularly those in the dozen or so cities that are rumored to be a focus of the event  are making plans to evade arrest. Some have fled their homes, choosing to get as far as possible from the addresses that the government has on file for them. Others are hunkering down with reserves of food, planning to shut themselves inside until the operation ends.

ImageDemonstrators held photos of children that have died in detention during a rally Friday outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Chicago.
Demonstrators held photos of children that have died in detention during a rally Friday outside of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Chicago.CreditBrittany Greeson for The New York Times

They are helped by the fact that ICE agents cannot forcibly enter the homes of their targets under the law. But if past tactics are any measure, agents are likely to come to the operation armed with ruses to coax people outside. They will likely have new strategies that might help to counteract the preparations that undocumented immigrants have been making with the help of their lawyers.

Anticipating that they will not manage to block all of the arrests through preventive strategies, immigration lawyers and advocates across the country have been working swiftly to distribute contingency plans for those who are captured.

Shannon Camacho, a coordinator of the Los Angeles Raids Rapid Response Network for immigrants, said the organization is urging undocumented parents with children who are United States citizens or legal permanent residents to sign caregiver affidavits, so that if the parents are deported, the children will not be left without legal guardians.

When people are arrested, their children cant be picked up from school, or if theyre caring for the elderly, no one will be around to give them their medicine. We tell them to have designated people in their friends or family networks to respond, said Ms. Camacho.

Mony Ruiz-Velasco, the director of PASO-West Suburban Action Project, a community group in Melrose Park, Ill., said her staff and volunteers were advising families to memorize at least one phone number so that they can call for help if they are detained.

Win, the largest nonprofit provider of shelters for families with children in New York, notified families with undocumented members to be cautious and to leave over the weekend, if necessary, a person familiar with the instructions confirmed. The nonprofit operates 11 shelters, and houses about 10 percent of the nearly 12,000 families in the city currently living in shelters.

A 17-year-old girl, who lives in one of the shelters and who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said a shelter employee used coded language to warn her family to go into hiding and to return on Monday. They said, Your room is going to be very hot this weekend. Come back Monday when things cool off, she said.

Meanwhile, immigrants rights lawyers were preparing to file court motions to reopen the immigration cases of people who are arrested in the operation before they can be deported. Doing so will require that the lawyers get access to the detention centers where the migrants will be held, and it is unclear whether federal officials will make such access available, lawyers said.

We have a library at this point of different kinds of motions that we can file, said Judy London, directing attorney of Public Counsels Immigrants Rights Project in Los Angeles. She added: The access issue is what we are most concerned about.

Ms. Londons organization is party to a lawsuit filed this week in New York to prevent the operation. In the lawsuit, the lawyers, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, claim that many of the migrants who are being targeted failed to appear in immigration court  a common reason for a deportation order  because the Trump administration did not inform them of their court dates.

Across the country, news of the operation sparked fear, even among immigrants who were unlikely to be affected  such as those who had never had an encounter with federal authorities, and were therefore unknown to the government, according to lawyers who were making preparations on Friday.

That afternoon, Atlanta immigration lawyer Charles Kuck took audience questions from inside the Univision 34 studio for a Facebook Live interview. Some in the audience said they had work permits or pending green card applications, or had been granted permission by authorities to voluntarily leave the United States but had not yet reached the deadline before which they must do so. They asked if they should be worried. In each case, his answer was no.

Protesters gathered for a Lights for Liberty rally at Plaza Fiesta, a sprawling strip mall along Buford Highway, a corridor home to many Atlanta-area immigrants.CreditKevin D. Liles for The New York Times

There are people worrying who shouldnt be worrying, Mr. Kuck said in a phone interview afterward.

After a brief stop at a Chick-fil-A, Mr. Kuck planned to meet with more clients, conduct a second Facebook Live interview, and attend a Lights for Liberty rally at Plaza Fiesta, a sprawling strip mall along Buford Highway, a corridor that is home to many Atlanta-area immigrants. As he continued to arm immigrants with information about their legal rights, he hoped to tame the panic that had spread throughout the regions Latino communities.

ICE isnt driving up and down Buford Highway, Mr. Kuck said. Theyre going to do targeted raids. Id be shocked if Atlanta took more than a couple hundred people.

Democratic lawmakers also rallied around immigrants, promising to protect their rights to due process and prevent as many arrests as possible. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on Friday that the city would increase funding for legal protections for immigrant families, and reiterated that she had banned ICE from accessing Chicago Police Department databases related to federal immigration enforcement activities.

Harry Osterman, a city alderman whose far-north-side district includes many Latinos, emailed constituents on Friday evening with hotline numbers and information on what to do if they see ICE activity.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California posted a video on Facebook informing immigrants of their rights. And Mayor Bernard C. Jack Young of Baltimore released a statement encouraging anyone who was arrested to avail themselves of the citys public immigration defense fund.

The only immigrants who appear to be shielded from any deportation raids, for now, are those living in New Orleans  which is experiencing heavy flooding this week and is bracing for more, brought on by tropical storm Barry. Following the agencys usual practice during extreme weather, ICE leadership sent a staff-wide email this week saying that agents would not conduct enforcement operations there during the storm.

Some undocumented immigrants have chosen to continue their routines as much as possible, in some cases a way to cope with the stress. When rumors first swirled about the latest round of immigration raids, said Geovani, 24, he didnt panic about his familys well-being. In a way, this weekend would be like any other for the undocumented family from Mexico, now living in Atlanta: home-cooked meals, hours lost on Facebook, down time shared among his parents and children.

Silvia Padilla has been living illegally in Los Angeles for 14 years. Her husband is also undocumented. She stressed multiple times that her family had never taken any government assistance. Her youngest child, Joshua, 1, is an American citizen.

News of the raids, Ms. Padilla said, is alarming. But it is a fear she has lived with for a long time. If ICE agents show up at their home, the entire family knows not to open the door.

This weekend, she still intends to take her children to the park and let them walk to the mall, and she plans to go to a doctors appointment with her husband.

Were going to go about our lives the same as we do. We have a lot of things to do. Were leaving it up to God, she said.

Veronica, the woman from Maryland who canceled her trip to Florida, is more uneasy. Every time someone knocks, you get scared of whos going to be behind the door, she said. Especially when youre not expecting anyone.

Caitlin Dickerson reported from New York, Jose Del Real from Los Angeles and Julie Bosman from Waukegan, Ill. Contributing reporting were Max Blau in Atlanta, Nikita Stewart and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs in New York, and Elizabeth Dias in Washington.

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